Growing Confidence From The Ground Up: Building Trust In The Coffee Industry

Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It can, however, be lost overnight.

The coffee industry has been coming face-to-face with trust issues in the past few months alone. Green Mountain Keurigs, an easily recognizable grocery store coffee brand, has been hit with a customer lawsuit citing dishonest marketing practices. News reports having been honing in on how farmers are left out of coffee buying and distribution conversations. Studies have cropped up finding consumers disillusioned with green labels, despite environmental certifications coming in many varieties and requiring a lot of work to obtain. Starbucks, the titular coffee behemoth, has been cagey concerning details on how much the corporation has been paying farmers.

All this information is overwhelming…and rightfully so. Whether you are a distributor, roaster or cafe owner, you literally cannot afford not to build trust.

Buyers can sniff dishonesty a mile away. Keeping tight lips may seem wise in the short-term, but in the long-term can and will affect everyone up and down the coffee line. There is no quick answer when it comes to building trust, either. Not when you have to cultivate the individuality of the people you work with and the people you hope to buy from your business. There are, however, obvious pitfalls that should be avoided moving forward.

Let’s take a look.

tea leaves

Update your green packaging message.

While I explored the difficulties of outdated green messaging in the tea industry, there are notable overlaps in the coffee industry.

As new global warming concerns crop up, more and more buyers are asking what their favorite brands are doing about it. Paper recycling and plastic recycling remain important, yes, but they’re far from the only sustainability issues that need attention. For starters, certain farming methods have been shown to accelerate carbon emissions. Farms are also seeing difficulty yielding the same amount (and quality) of crops they used to, influencing scientific research to start coming up with new coffee plant varieties…or outright beanless coffee.

A simple packaging update that reflects newer issues will set you way ahead of the curve.

The green approach should be extended not just to the land, but to those that take care of the land. Paying farmers higher prices is essential to ensure they’re able to still go to their job in a year’s time, what with several farming populations having no choice but to work several jobs or leave outright. Increasing their involvement in the trading process instead of choppy communication gives them more leverage in an industry dominated by middlemen. Your buyers want to know. Your buyers need to know.

Do your sustainability measures line up with customer concerns? Find out now, because waiting and staying silent is only making things worse.

coffee farmers

Be transparent about what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Customers today are becoming less and less impressed, no matter how many badges or sales your business has accrued.

They’re all too aware that a shiny exterior can hold a rotten exterior. The Internet has made it very easy to find statistics and news reports contradicting a compassionate, eco-friendly business statement. Businesses are just as aware and regularly check their professional image for cracks. Not all of these cracks are bad, however. They may even be a boon.

Many large and small roasters have video reels beefing up their portfolio, show all the hard work that goes into creating that neat, pretty bag of specialty coffee. It’s rare to find a cafe that doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram page showing off their latest latte art, courtesy of their hard-working baristas. Keep going. Talk about recent issues that have been circulating in the industry and how you’re going about solving them. Be open about what’s not working and detail a process of your own solutions.

Just like it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch, just a little doubt in the eye of a potential buyer is all it takes to turn them away. Even if that means cracking that professional veneer and spilling a few secrets, so be it.

working professional

Diversify the feedback between your business and your buyers.

It’s no small wonder why so many roasters and cafes have regularly updated blogs. It’s a great way to create a positive circle of feedback, investment and constructive criticism. A win-win for customer and business…when done consistently.

As touched on above, your blog presence is your thumb on the pulse of customer interest — it continues to rise as one of the most consumed forms of online content in the United States. To get the most consistent beat you should be diversifying your social media presence so you have a few outlets with which customers — and potential customers — can interact. Not everyone consumes content the same way. One buyer might love your website’s detailed blog posts, while another might be too busy for more than a few basic Facebook updates automatically sent to their phone.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Take that interview you had with a new microlot and parse it up into bite-sized pieces. Host the entire session on your website, then slice up key parts into snippets that better fit Twitter or Instagram. Interview a loyal customer and have them express what your brand or services mean to their day-to-day life. The key to creating consistent, relevant content is aiming for a less-is-more approach.

If you haven’t maintained this juggling act yet? Get on it. Competition is only getting stiffer and the sooner you start creating that trusting relationship, the better.

roasted coffee beans

Don’t be afraid to admit what isn’t working out.

This is the hardest pill to swallow.

Selling a good product or service is a juggling act composed of tiny, interconnected details. As such, it’s hard to admit when something isn’t working out and you have to start over from the ground up. Not only do you have to snip out a service or piece of equipment or trader, that lone action will have a huge ripple effect throughout your entire business. That’s a lot of effort straight down the drain…right?

Far from it. A recent report on Luckin Coffee, a coffee corporation in China with ambitions of becoming a replacement for Starbucks, revealed the business lost nearly twice as much as it’s made in just a year’s time. Despite that, the company still has goals of expanding.

Instead of viewing a failed effort as wasted time…think of your failures as fertilizer.

The best fertilizer is composed of dead organic material, shells and soil varieties. It’s a hybrid foundation that gives seeds the wealth of nutrients they need to grow taller and stronger than their forebearers. Even when you come to the conclusion your green packaging message wasn’t specific enough or your blog hasn’t been updated on a timely basis, you’re still building off of past mistakes to rise up higher. The worst thing you can do is stubbornly stick to what isn’t resonating and watch interest slowly fade.

Customers are making no secret as to why they’re dropping companies and seeking out alternatives. Figure out what you can do to keep people coming back, up to and including eliminating details you’ve already sunk months into.

coffee sign

Make sure your message is communicated loud, clear and consistent…especially when you make mistakes.

Have you ever spoken with someone and gotten a strong first impression, only to find it contradicted unexpectedly later? It can be an illuminating moment…and it can be startling.

This is not a variable you want forming the undercurrent of your business strategy. While a little unpredictability is an important part of any relationship, it can also whip the rug right out from under you. It’s when a customer creates a lawsuit suing a coffee company for making sustainability sound a lot easier on the surface. It’s when Starbucks states it pays an above market share, then neglects to share the details.

It’s stating one thing, then doing another. The ultimate trust killer.

Customers hear plenty of messages every day loud and clear — as many as 4,000 in a single day. Consistent and transparent ones, on the other hand…that’s a little rarer. Staying ahead of all these negative stories means double down on your content marketing plan — and your businesses’s root values — so you can maintain a strong presence over the coming years. This may just include snipping out a middleman (or two) and changing up your strategy. The increased trust between you and your buyers will be worth it.

If you don’t change…that little seed of mistrust will grow into a towering oak whose shadow you can’t escape.

dragonsandflowers logo

If you liked this, you may also be interested in:

The tea industry often leads the charge in sustainability and green packaging, but I’ve got a few thoughts on where it’s falling behind.

Whether you’re a roaster or a roaster-to-be, there’s always something new to learn about the business side of things. My roaster resource takes a look at basic business fundamentals, current coffee trends and the industry at large.

Cafe owners and cafe lovers will have a lot to love with these cafe design round-ups and personal thoughts, which include a cafe designed after a family kitchen and a recent start-up that focuses on supporting mentally ill communities.

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